A quick update before I head back to working on my final project for this semester.
It’s so odd to be saying that again after having been done with my undergrad nearly eleven years, but here we are, working on a master’s in library science.
At least this time it’s pursuing a career and field I’m suited for!
A few weeks ago, a friend asked what kind of guy I envision myself with. After thinking for a few moments, I responded, “It’s difficult to say. Honestly, I don’t trust myself or my taste in guys anymore because the ones I’m typically attracted to end up being unavailable—either they’re not interested in me, or they’re already taken, or they’re straight.”
It’s to the point where my reaction to seeing an attractive guy is to simply shut down because the act of processing the cyclone of negative and conflicting emotions has become too exhausting.
But it’s the third category—straight guys—that has proven to be the most frustrating because it historically makes up the majority of my unrequited crushes. We gay guys do it all the time. We fall for the straight guy, not necessarily because he’s a challenge or a worthy conquest (or at least not for me), but because he’s decent, kind, uncomplicated, and adorable.
And finding a guy like that in the gay community, especially one who’s smart and reasonably well-adjusted… well, that’s like finding a unicorn.
But I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this question of why I tend to fall for so many straight guys when I know it’s a doomed enterprise from the beginning. Could it be that I’m that masochistic? That it’s an unconscious means of controlling the situation by choosing a path that I at least know the outcome to? That I simply enjoy being miserable?
To answer this question, I’m turning first to a subject that I’ve also been giving some thought to lately: porn. Specifically, how it shapes our tastes and expectations as gay men, and how it redefines what we consider “normal” or “acceptable” about real life.
In other words, has fiction and fantasy so radically altered our perceptions of physical beauty that we reject otherwise decent, eligible guys [read = guys who don’t spend every spare moment in the gym, who may not have washboard abs, a v-shape frame, biceps and calves that go for days, firm pecs, etc] because they don’t meet the impossible standard we’ve come to expect from men in porn?
While the notion of porn addiction is (although, like any addiction, real and destructive) largely exaggerated by Evangelical fundies and prudish conservatives terrified by the idea of sex without shame or fear, exposure to porn is not without its mind-altering effects.
It comes down to a design flaw in our brains owing to the fact that we’re dealing with hardware several hundred thousand years out of date. Our brains still think it’s the year 20,000 BCE out there on the African Pleistocene.
Particularly for the male brain, sex is hardwired to the reward center of the brain—the ventral tegmental area or VTA, which is most often linked with dopamine. When you point an organ built to procreate and survive in scarcity conditions at a virtually endless supply of sexy images… well, here’s a passage from a 2013 Guardian article:
Many abused substances directly trigger dopamine secretion – without us having to work to accomplish a goal. This can damage the dopamine reward system. In porn, we get “sex” without the work of courtship. Now, scans show that porn can alter the reward centre too.
Aside from the brain and expectation-altering effects, I’ve also been pondering why so many guys are attracted to certain genres of porn, or to certain body types, or certain subcultures (jocks, leather, circuit boys, etc).
One theory I have is that these attractions are largely about guys trying to fulfill some unfulfilled experience in their formative years. For example, guys into jock culture, who may have agonized as closeted teen boys over the fit physiques of their straight classmates in the locker room in high school, it makes sense their adult attractions would include that fantasy.
(Obviously it’s much more complex and dynamic than that, and there are a myriad of reasons people find certain qualities or activities arousing.)
Porn is more than just entertainment. It’s about fulfilling virtually every fantasy ever conceived of, which is why Rule 34 of the Internet is: If it exists, there is porn of it.
For me, porn has only deepened my growing frustration with the seeming recreational attitude of many gay men towards sex, to the point where I don’t even bother any more. It’s made me resentful and angry, which has caused me to pause and wonder if that is how porn has reshaped my expectations of sex and intimacy.
Which leads us full circle back to my response to my friend’s question a few weeks ago.
Why do I always fall for straight guys?
My theory is that, just as the jocks may be trying to exorcise the demons from their memories of the high school locker room, I may be re-enacting my initial experiences as a deeply closeted gay boy in an Evangelical Christian community. Being surrounded by (presumably) straight and painfully attractive guys who were completely off limits shaped my brain and sexual attractions in ways that I’m not entirely sure can be undone.
Do they need to be undone?
Perhaps, if I ever want a realistic long-term relationship with a real guy who isn’t merely as a catalyst for resolving past identity wounds.
There’s the realization, too, that I don’t actually know what I’d do with a boyfriend at this point, or if there’s even enough of me to sustain a relationship. One deep dark fear is that I’m an empty shell, and he’ll wake up one day, see that, and leave.
This is a lot to work on.
For now, however, a paper calls.